PARC-Sponsored Windsurfer Nikola Girke – a Symbol of Resilience


Written by PARC Retirement Living

2023 iQFOiL Games # 7 Lanzarote© Sailing Energy / iQfoil Class: 12 December, 2023

*Nikola is currently competing in the Last Chance Regatta in Hyères, France April 20–28 – the final and most crucial event in her quest to qualify for the Paris Olympics. We’ll update as the event progresses. Good luck, Nikola!

When the breeze picks up, a sense of freedom washes over Canadian windsurfer Nikola Girke. And with every challenge she conquers, she defies not only the elements – but also the limitations of expectation and age.

A champion windsurfer who competed in five Olympics between 2004 and 2020, Nikola came out retirement last year, at 46, to compete for a spot in Paris this summer, making her the oldest athlete competing in the sport. Since then, she has persevered through a gruelling training regimen, hard-fought races, and a wearying European tour to become Canada’s leading female competitor, vying to represent the country in 2024.

Throughout this journey, PARC has been honoured to serve as Nikola’s official sponsor. It feels especially fitting for a retirement-living company to sponsor elite windsurfing’s oldest athlete! When PARC Founder and Chairman Rainer Müller learned about Nikola, he was deeply inspired by the parallels between her status as a “post-retirement” athlete defying the odds – and PARC residents thriving in their second act.

When Change is an Opportunity

Nikola’s journey back to competitive windsurfing began with a pivotal shift in equipment – when it was announced that iQFOiL would replace RS:X, as the official windsurfing class at Olympic Games in Paris. Foiling is a faster version of the sport, involving heavier equipment, which sits above water on a large blade-like foil, reaching speeds of up to 50 km/h, or around double that of RS:X.

For Nikola, the change meant that being tall and strong was no longer a liability, as it was in the past. Instead, her 5’10” frame is an advantage.

“I battled for so many years with my weight,” she says. “When they changed to the new equipment, everyone kept telling me, ‘You’d be perfect.’ So I started looking into it, and there was still an opportunity to qualify for Canada.”

When Age is an Advantage

The transition wasn’t without its hurdles. From crashes that left her sore and bruised to the uncertainties of competing at an older age, Nikola faced each obstacle with unwavering determination.

Maturity brings certain advantages, too. Though it can take longer for her to recover from injuries and strain than her young co-competitors, Nikola has learned – from the gift of experience– when to slow down, and how to prepare strategically.

“As older athletes, we know what injury and pain are like, whereas the younger athletes I compete against, who are often in their early 20s, are fearless,” she says. “They push and push. I know to hold back a little bit sometimes, because I know what could happen. And I know I need to eat well, sleep well, and recover.” She’s also more mentally resilient in the face of setbacks, from weather and winds that won’t cooperate to homesickness, and unexpected illness – all of which she has experienced on her current tour.

When Knowledge is Power

Outside her athletic career and Olympic aspirations, Nikola runs an executive coaching business, motivating others go for their dreams, no matter their age. Her experience comes in handy there, too.

“In the last year or so, I’ve talked to so many people who say, I’m 30, I’m too old for this or that. Or: my body doesn’t work anymore because I just turned 40. And I say, wait a second, what’s going to happen when you’re 50 or 60?” she says. “You’re never too old to have goals and dreams, and push yourself. Dare to dream, dare to achieve, dare to succeed. It takes guts, it’s risky, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.”

This applies as much to executives and athletes as it does to PARC residents. Her advice to residents? “Take a dance class or try something new – no matter your age! Who cares if you aren’t good at it. Nobody is when they first start. But we can still learn, improve, have fun and keep ourselves active, in our minds and bodies.”

When the Journey Matters as Much as the Destination

Beyond the thrill of competition, sailing holds a special meaning for Nikola, as a connection to her late father. An avid sailor who passed away when she was 19, he instilled in her a love for the open water.

Whenever she sails, she feels his presence. “My dad was my biggest supporter, and he passed away before he got to enjoy retirement or that phase of life,” she says. “It feels like he’s out there in the water to me. So, it’s kind of like I’m giving him some more chances to go sailing.”

This outlook helps her navigate with gratitude and purpose. Whether on the water or in life, Nikola is such an inspiring reminder that age is just a number. And with courage and perseverance, anything is possible.

Follow Nikola as she competes in the Last Chance Regatta, and beyond: Website and Facebook